Bidders Vie for Arts.org and Other Domain Names at Heritage Auctions

Ranging from $130 to half-a-million dollars, domain names are a hot commodity.

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Could domain names be the next big business for auction houses? If so, Heritage Auctions is leading the way with its upcoming Domain Names Signature Auction. While pre-bidding has already begun for the 30 lots on offer, the live auction will happen on February 9th at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.

“Most names at auction sell below $1 million,” Aron Meystedt, Heritage’s director of domain names and intellectual property, told artnet News in an email, though he added that the auction house has achieved prices well into the six figures. “Domain auctions were very popular in the 2000s, when venture capital money flowed through our little industry,” he said. “Seven-figure sales were more common then.” Most bidders on domain names continue to be investors and end-user developers who seek a name for branding.

What’s in the upcoming sale? The incredibly short “NL.com” is currently leading the way with a $500,000 bid, matching its pre-sale low estimate. The auction house sees high demand for such short names, and three-letter “.com” domains are selling on the open market for $10,000-$50,000 and higher. The double lot (they’re being sold as a unit) of NYC.am and NYC.fm, by comparison, is stagnating at $500, also matching the low estimate.

Short four and five letter words that are easy to remember, easy to type, and offer quite a bit of prestige and credibility also do well. Arts.org, for example, has met its $9,000 estimate as well. Previously the property of Tennessee’s Johnson City Area Arts Council, “arts.org” could appeal to any number of arts organizations on the hunt for an authoritative name according to Meystedt.

Heritage is not the first in the domain-name auction game: domain seller GoDaddy conducts auctions, for example. Other competitors include Sedo, SnapNames, and Flippa. The major auctioneers—Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams, and Phillips—however, have yet to follow suit.

It remains to be seen if Heritage will be a trendsetter, as it was for luxury handbags (see Christie’s Snatches Purse Specialists, Heritage Sues for $60 Million), or if domain name sales will prove a passing fad, but Meystedt is confident of the long-term prospects for URL sales. “Domain names are the real estate of the Internet, and our investors realize these are great investments with global appeal.”

As new a terrain as it is, interested buyers of domain names are already being accused of cybersquatting, or registering a useful URL with no intention of developing a website. Instead, the plan is to sell it for a major profit (this is only illegal when registered trademarks are involved). Hmm… Sounds like the domain-name equivalent of art flipping to us. Which begs the question: who will become the Stefan Simchowitz of domain names (see Christopher Glazek Annotates his NYT Stefan Simchowitz Story)?

We’ll have to wait and see.


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